10 things you didn’t know about Bram Fischer

Abram Fischer, commonly known as Bram Fischer (1908-1975), was honoured at the University of Witwatersrand with an honorary doctorate and colloquium on March 26, for his place in the history of the struggle against apartheid. 

BRAM FISCHER: Panel at the  Colloquium at the Wits University, including Lorraine Chaskalson, Ruth Rice,  Max Sisulu, Ilse Wilson, Sir Nicholas Stadlen, Professor Stephan Clingman, Dr Sholto Cross,  Ahmed Kathrada, Lord Joel Joffe, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Lesley Schermbrucker, George Bizos, Mosie Moolla not pictured here) and Yvonne Malan not pictured here). Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

BRAM FISCHER: Panel at the colloquium at the Wits University, including Lorraine Chaskalson, Ruth Rice, Max Sisulu, Ilse Wilson, Sir Nicholas Stadlen, Professor Stephan Clingman, Dr Sholto Cross, Ahmed Kathrada, Lord Joel Joffe, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Lesley Schermbrucker, George Bizos, Mosie Moolla not pictured here) and Yvonne Malan not pictured here). Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

1.  Nelson Mandela has credited Fischer for saving him and other senior leadership of the ANC (African National Congress) from the gallows during the Rivonia Trial.

2. He is the only revolutionary communist leader to have played rugby as scrumhalf against the All Blacks for the Free State Province.

3. He has cum laude degrees in both his BA and LLB from Grey University College


4. In 1930 he was awarded the Rhodes scholarship and attended New College at Oxford where he received a diploma in law and economics.

5.   His wife, Molly, who was also a political activist, died in a freak car accident shortly after the Rivonia Trial verdict, a fact that Fischer did not mention whilst visiting his comrades on Robben Island, a week later, so as not to burden them.

6. Fischer was a part time lecturer in law at Wits during the time he was building up his practice at the Bar

7. He used the surname “Black” as a pseudonym in 1965 when he went underground for 9 months

8. Whilst in prison, Fischer was unable to attend the funeral of his son Paul who suffered from cystic fibrosis and died at the age of 23

9. After his arrest and sentence, Fischer was asked whether his sacrifice was worth it. He was offended by the question and replied, “Did you ask Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki or Kathy Kathrada or any others that have already suffered this punishment? If not, why do you ask me?”

10. Fischer died cancer in 1975 at his brothers home in Bloemfontein, after being released from jail a few weeks prior.




Q&A with Bassem Eid

Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Photo: Provided

Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Photo: Provided

Palestinian journalist Bassem Eid is the founder and former director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies brought him out to speak about his work at various universities around the country during Israel Apartheid Week (IAW). This is his fourth time in South Africa.

What is your background?
I grew up in a camp in the Old City in Jerusalem. We were evacuated for no reason, one year before the 1967 war. I worked for B’Tselem [The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories] from the start of the first intifada [uprising], but I resigned because I was more interested in monitoring the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) violations of their own peoples’ rights.

What kind of work did you do there?
We released reports, six times a year that looked at the violations and atrocities committed by the PA, under the Yasser Arafat regime.

Did you feel this was more important to focus on than what the Israeli Defence Force was doing?
Yes, because it is more painful to commit these atrocities against their own people. For me, it became about defending Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. For them, the PA became another kind of occupation, and because of their corruption, these people have been left hopeless.

What is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
There is no solution right now. The major problem right now is the lack of leadership on both sides. They will both have to wait for the coming generation. The right-wing Israeli government and the old faction of leaders on the Palestinian side.

Is Israel an apartheid state?
No, it isn’t. South African apartheid has never existed in Israel. Palestinians can study and receive medical care, which are the two most important rights.

What do you think about IAW?
It adds more hate to existing hate. South Africa has a propagandist notion towards the conflict. The money that is thrown at IAW should be used for South Africans who need it in the fight against poverty. BDS (Boycott, Divestement and Sanctions) is a prelude to genocide and the destruction of the Palestinian people. They have no idea what’s going on, they’re just adding more fuel to the flame.


Wits Vuvuzela, IAW [VIDEO]: Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 wraps up, March 18, 2014

Wits Vuvuzela, Israel apartheid concert round two, August 23, 2013

Wits Vuvuzela, Israel vs SRC, May 31, 2013


SLICE OF LIFE: ‘Black is the colour of my true love’

“I HAVE black friends”: a phrase that some white people wear as armour before entering into a racial battlefield, hoping  it will save them from their history.  It doesn’t. Instead it reminds us that black people are tokens in the claim for racial neutrality.

Apartheid’s residue left a culture of people struggling to reconcile what it means to be black with the people they really are. Some even reject this compromise, not wanting to identify with blackness because our history is so loaded with injustices. They do not want to wear the trauma of our past.

We can all agree that apartheid should never have happened, but it did and now we are dealing with its ramifications the best way we know how. And that means owning our blackness. Class_2014_001

Consciously black  

Being black is one of the most magical things you can be.  Being aware of your skin colour means having a deep understanding of the injustices that our forebears suffered under apartheid, despite how foreign that time seems to us now. This gives me a greater awareness of the inequalities we face on a day-to-day basis, even in a supposedly non-racial South Africa.

Black Twitter has afforded us a culturally loaded space where black people converge to launch a coup d’ètat against white supremacy and to find humour in the worst situations. This free space to discuss issues is perhaps one of the best things about being black.

When we deny being black we are in essence rejecting the part of ourselves that affords us the sanctity of knowing.

Using social media as a platform to express our hurts, fears and anger against racism, we make the decision to claim our struggle, label it and place it accordingly, without the misdirection of white supremacy.

Our melanin gives us the ability to soak in the natural goodness of the sun and colour ourselves with the light of the world, showing off the beauty of our skin tone. Our blackness affords us a space in two different worlds. We are able to go from suburb to township and understand our positions in these two worlds without being restricted by our own blackness.

Denying colour 

Admittedly, ours is a society with people from different backgrounds and with different experiences of race and racism. It is part of our diversity that we are able to claim our own identities and celebrate them without judgment or fear.

Being black should therefore not be a default condition where we fear claiming our blackness because it’s loaded by stereotypes. We should rather marvel at this melanin cloak and wear it with pride.

When we deny being black we are in essence rejecting the part of ourselves that affords us the sanctity of knowing.This knowing allows us to see past the hidden agenda of white entitlement which caused disillusioned black people to believe whiteness was something people should aspire to.

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said: “Racism should have never happened and you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.” But race denialism … well, that is an even worse atrocity.

Ahmed Kathrada turns 85 and celebrates at Wits University


BIRTHDAY BOY: Struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada alongside his wife Barbara Hogan enjoy the performances in the Great Hall last night. Photo: Luke Matthews

Struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada, known to many as ‘Uncle Kathy’ was joined by his peers, South African politicians, school kids, Wits staff and students, as he celebrated his 85th birthday at the Wits Great Hall last night.

Wits SRC (Student Representative Council) and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation hosted the veteran’s milestone birthday celebrations which included special guests Judge Dikgang Moseneke, Deputy Vice-chancellor Prof Tawana Kupe and struggle veteran Advocate George Bizos.

“There is great merit in turning 85 and I strongly recommend it,” Kathrada told the audience in his address. He went on to thank Wits for the recognition it gave him in 2012. “I was a student of this university for three whole months and the university didn’t forget me, they actually gave me a doctorate, a free doctorate,” he joked.

Judge Moseneke, the Chancellor of Wits, said Kathrada’s fight for freedom flowed from selflessness: “We enter the public terrain to server others and not ourselves. We must do more than say ‘Batho pele’.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Ahmed Kathrada stood to receive his birthday cake and for the singing of "Happy birthday". Photo: Luke Matthews

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Professor Tawana Kupe, left, takes a photo of Ahmed Kathrada, middle, as he receives his birthday cake. 
Photo: Luke Matthews

SRC president Shafee Verachia thanked Kathrada “… for showing us what responsible citizenship is about and that good will always triumph over bad.”

Kathrada was presented with a number of gifts including an SRC blazer and a number 85 Bidvest Wits jersey.  He joked that he will be playing in this Saturday’s game against Orlando Pirates.

Kathrada, who spent 18 years in prison on Robben Island, was particular appreciative of the school children in attendance. Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela after the event, he said: “The nicest part of this day was the school children. What you miss most in jail is children so it was just the right way to start my birthday.”

A Wits group called The Scent and SAMA (South African Music Awards) winner Ifani also performed at last night celebrations.


Panel tackles customary law and traditional leadership

A discussion on property rights and traditional leadership turned its attention to the impact of customary law on local communities and women in particular.

Hosted by Wiser at Wits University on Monday afternoon, the panel discussion was part of the Public Positions on History and Politics series.

Director of the Rural Women’s Action Project (RWAR) Dr Aninka Claassens presented a paper which highlighted the negative impact of customary law on women.

She said these laws deny women their right to claim land because the law was formed pre-1994 in favour of a patriarchal system. According to Claassens, official customary laws deny ordinary citizens the right to exercise their democratic rights.

She told Wits Vuvuzela that these customary laws have serious repercussions on democratic rights for people in rural areas because they have to pay an annual tribal levy to show allegiance to their tribe.

“If you do not pay an annual tribal levy, you won’t get a proof of address letter from the chief and if you don’t have that you can’t get a child support grant, you can’t get an ID book,” Claassens said.

She said the situation is worsening with “people being forced to pretend to pay allegiance just to practice their rights as ordinary citizens.”

Gender activist, Nomboniso Gasa, from University of Cape Town, also weighed in on the customary law debate.

“… Government cannot say that because you live in Cofimvaba that this version of customary law must apply to you,” she said.

She continued to say that although she originally comes from Cofimvaba, a small remote area in the Eastern Cape, she thinks she should not be forced to obey certain customary laws.

Gavin Capps, from Society, Work and Development Institute at Wits, said living custom, which is not written in statute is not necessarily a bad thing but official customary laws underestimate democratic forms of decision-making.

However, he said, defining culture and deciding what part of it could be practised is a complex issue which cannot easily contested or changed.

“The point being then is the struggle over who defines culture, tradition and customary law and this has been an ongoing struggle ever since the project begun,” he said.

African archeology association finally comes to South Africa after being shunned by Apartheid government

new image pan africa

Nearly 500 delegates were hosted by Wits University for the 14th congress of the Pan-African Archeological Association this week. Photo: Anazi Zote.

 It’s been over 60 years since the Pan African Archeological Association and Related Studies (PAA) lost its bid to come to South Africa for its second congress. In 1948, the nationalist government  withdrew its support for the congress and delegates made their way to Algiers in 1951.

This week, Wits University, initially intended as the 1951 venue, hosted PAA members from all corners of the continent at the 14th installation of their congress.

One of the conference organisers, Dr Karim Sadar, who lectures archaeology at Wits University, said the conference was a landmark event. 

Sadar explained that the apartheid government did not want to associate with other African countries because it believed in racial segregation.

President of the association, Benjamin Smith, a former Wits professor, described the congress as the biggest gathering of PAA members so far with almost 500 participants: “We have delegates coming from across Africa and this is the largest Pan African congress we have ever held,” he said.

Delegates were treated to oral and poster presentations around the theme: ‘African Archeology without frontiers.”

 Speaking at the opening of the congress on Monday this week,  deputy director general in the Department of Science and Technology, Professor Yonah Seleti praised the work of the PAA and its members.

“The work that you do contributes not only to the scientific knowledge around origins, but also contributes to our social cohesion and cultural identity, and much more, it carves a path to modernity which is Africa, Seleti said. 












OPINION: How free is free in South Africa?

Visting Constitional Court in 2012.

Inside the Constitional Court. Photo: Provided

As South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy, the question of how free a country we are remains up in the air. For some, their lives haven’t changed all that much. They can still go wherever they want without question, pick and choose where they go to school, get a good education and generally speaking, live a nice, comfortable life.

But for many- in fact, most, this is not the case. While apartheid laws may have fallen away, the majority of South Africans still live in poverty, do not receive free and quality education and do have access to basic, fundamental rights, including healthcare, safety and security, and housing.

Achievements and failures of SA post-apartheid

Economically speaking, the government has built up its economic policies, but let’s be honest, how much worse could it possibly get than it was during apartheid, when the international community was placing sanctions on South Africa left, right and centre? For the sake of positivity and “looking forward”, let’s just say that our economy is doing relatively well on the whole.

[pullquote]How can I celebrate Freedom Day when so many of my generation didn’t get the opportunities that I did?[/pullquote]

When it comes to education, on the other hand, the ANC-led government has failed abysmally. In 2011, the Department of Basic Education released a report in which it stated the following statistics:

-3 544 schools do not have electricity.

-2 402 schools have no water supply.

-913 do not have any ablution facilities while 11 450 schools are still using pit latrine toilets.

-Over 400 schools in the Eastern Cape are classified as “mud-schools”, many of them consisting of mud and shacks.

While our Constitution prescribes a free and equal education for all, the government has failed to deliver, and, after fighting for almost six years, the minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga finally signed a legally binding document called the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. She has been given exactly one year to ensure that these norms and standards are applied to every (government) school in the country.

Despite that small achievement, the issue of a lack of qualified potential employees still remains. An inadequate education system has led to a generation who lack the skills and ability to further their education and many have become reliant on government hand-outs. As well as affecting individuals, this will in time have a negative effect on the economy, when we are not able to compete globally.

Dozens of NGOs continue to fight for basic fundamental rights, especially in the township areas. In these areas, home invasions, theft, gangsterism, rape and murder are rife. Residents have to walk for several kilometres to go to the toilet and sometimes, those late night trips result in violent attacks and crime sprees.

[pullquote]Apartheid may have ended 20 years ago, but South Africa still has a long way to go before we can feel free to celebrate freedom.[/pullquote]

Then there’s public service and the healthcare system. HIV/AIDS has become the number one killer across Africa in the past two decades and South Africa is no exception. While anti-retrovirals (ARVs) have become readily available to those who need it, a lack of education, a stigma attached to the illness and inadequate public service delivery (largely due to corruption) hinder the entire process and people continue to die, untreated, on a daily basis.

Inequality, the biggest problem of them all

Finally, there’s the issue of inequality.  As a white- middle-class student I am not actively affected by it. I have all I need and probably always will. But, as a registered voter in this year’s elections and a proud South African, I see and feel the effects of inequality every single day. How can I celebrate Freedom Day when so many of my generation didn’t get the opportunities that I did? When I’ve visited schools with 100 children in a class? When my childhood home is just kilometres away from a township? When I look into the face of a homeless man, woman or child at every traffic light I drive through?

All of these reasons (and many, many more) make it difficult to feel as if we are a truly free, equal and democratic society. Apartheid may have ended 20 years ago, but South Africa still has a long way to go before we can feel free to celebrate freedom.



Lodi Mothiba, born April 27, 1994, just turned 20 and doesn’t intend to vote

BIRTHDAY GIRL: Lodi Mothiba believes South Africans should not dwell on the past. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

BIRTHDAY GIRL: Lodi Mothiba believes South Africans should not dwell on the past.
Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Lodi Mothiba was born into a democracy, April 27, 1994. Like every other young adult who grew up in post-Apartheid South Africa, this 20 year old was granted freedom and has never experienced the level of oppression previous generations endured during Apartheid.

Mothiba grew up in Polokwane, Limpopo.  She is the eldest of three children.  She had to overcome tragedy with the loss of her father during her preliminary matric exams in 2012. “Trial was the hardest thing on the planet… Trial was horrible.” She tried not to think about it too much and managed to matriculate with distinctions at the end of the year.

She received a partial bursary from PWC and will complete her articles after she qualifies with her BAccSci degree. Currently she is studying at Wits and hopes to achieve her dream of becoming a chartered accountant one day.

Mothiba has an interest in drama and enjoys reading, riding her bike and swimming, “I’m one of the few black people that enjoys swimming,” she joked.

She agreed to be interviewed to highlight her views on democracy, as a born-free.

When you were growing up, were you conscious of the significance of your birthday?

I don’t think it matters. I didn’t think of it as the day black people were allowed to vote for the first time, for me it was just my birthday.

Did you have a diverse group of friends?

Yes definitely, my best friend was white. My whole range of friends were just like the rainbow nation.

Do you notice colour?

No, not at all… Well I notice it, of course you definitely notice it.  But it doesn’t faze me at all.

What about the guys you date?

No, not even hey. I haven’t dated a guy that’s not black, come to think of it. But I don’t mind. I think white guys are really hot, honestly, I do. I’d date a white guy.

What are some of the frustrating things about our democracy, what should be done?

I don’t know if something can be done. I didn’t even register to vote. Because when you vote for someone you believe that they are in a position of trust. Our political parties are not adequate, there’s too much corruption. I don’t think I can vote for anyone. Even if I registered to vote, it would have just been an obligation to me.

Don’t you think people judge you for that?

They do, they definitely do. They say, “You’re a citizen. You shouldn’t complain.” But I won’t complain. When I look at these parties, I don’t know who to turn to. You vote for someone you believe will hold the country together, you trust them to do something good.

Do you think you are being irresponsible by not voting?

I feel like it is irresponsible. I guess it’s a good thing to vote because it shows that you care about your country.   But I don’t know, I still think even if I registered, I still would not have gone to vote. A lot of my friends didn’t register to vote either. There’s nothing pushing me to go.

Do you think many people born post-apartheid are indifferent about our democracy?

Yes, I think a lot of us are indifferent. My friends really just don’t care. We don’t think so much about what happened in the past. I don’t know if it should affect us though. I think we should move on. I know people like saying you have to know where you come from to know where you going.

What about the argument that we need to redress the wrongs of the past? Can we move on without redressing those wrongs?

Yes, we should redress the wrongs of the past. I guess it makes sense to look at the past and see the mistakes that we made and fix them. But dwelling on the past, that’s what I’m against.   People blame many things on apartheid.

What is your worst stereotype?

A stereotype that I hate, that we all have even if we don’t say it, and I feel bad for saying it now; but if there is a white lecturer or a black lecturer- I’d rather have a white lecturer. It happens though. It does. We’ve been programmed in our heads to think white is superior and it’s horrible.

What message do you want to give older people about the born free generation?

That’s actually a hard question, I don’t know. I can’t advise older people… Take time to understand how we think, I feel like a whole lot of older people don’t understand how we think and most parents just close their children in and most of the time, those are the kids who rebel.

What kind of democracy do you want for South Africa?

A democracy where the people actually have a voice and one where there is lessened corruption or no corruption at all. We should care more often. I’m going against what I’ve done, but we should at least register to vote and show that we care. We should show some interest in your country, and not be indifferent.

We should be more patriotic. We can’t just be about this brain drain life, where we study here and then just leave and go overseas. We will always complain that South Africa is not developing right but who do we expect to develop it if we are not the ones taking a stance and actually doing something about it.

The big divide, physical and otherwise

The South Arican Union of Jewish Students have erected what they call a peace tent on the library lawns. Not much foot traffic under the tent today. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

The South Arican Union of Jewish Students (SAUJUS) have erected what they call a peace tent on the library lawns. Not much foot traffic under the tent today on account of the rain. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Walking on the library lawns today Witsies were met by two separate installations across from one another symbolic of each side of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.

On the eastern most side of the lawns stood spray-painted signs heralding the start of “Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) 2014”. On the western most side stood a big beige “peace tent” erected by the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS).

The peace tent remained deserted during lunch, as the persistent rain kept students from walking across the water-logged lawns to the tent and its contents. Inside they would have found notice boards with information on how to fold peace doves and “images that show the positive and peaceful side of life in Israel,” said SAUJS chair, Ariela Carno.

Right across from the tent, the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) hosted the first of many film screenings planned for IAW on campus.

The documentary Occupation 101: The Voices of the Silenced Majority, screened at lunch drew a decent crowd of students who were there to watch in support and in an effort to learn more about IAW.

Mpho Sibiya, 2nd year BA said: “I actually just came to find out more about the whole Israel/Palestine thing. I don’t know if I can say I support the cause or not.”

PSC president Tasneem Essop and deputy chair Alex Freeman addressed the students before the screening.

Contested peace

Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 is the biggest yet, garnering international support from various political and social players. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 is the biggest yet, garnering international support from various political and social players. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Essop explained that IAW is an effort to highlight apartheid in Israel and with the help of a global boycott movement to drive the boycotted state into negotiations, as was done in South Africa not so long ago.

In response to the lack of an official stance by Wits University, Essop said: “The university should have a stance,” and this is why the PSC will be having a debate with vice chancellor, Adam Habib this coming Friday to try and challenge the “free space for all” view they currently hold.

In response to a question about the peace tent, Freeman said: “They (SAUJS) don’t really want peace”. He added that at present SAUJS has a Zionist stance and this is the reason he will never join them, even though he is Jewish.

Once the 2006 documentary directed Abdallah Omeish and Sufyan Omeish got started the information given by Essop and Freeman came to life onscreen through the lived experiences of people in Israel.

The documentary was originally made with the express purpose of debunking misrepresentations of Palestinians to the American public, said Essop.

Sibiya said she had been moved by what she had seen, “I didn’t understand the extent of the problem.”